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Morocco demands staff pullout at UN mission in Western Sahara

Morocco has lashed out at the mission in the Western Sahara over controversial comments from UN chief Ban Ki-Moon. The move has sparked fears of the "resumption of war" between Polisario front rebels and Rabat.

Morocco ordered staff at the UN mission in the contested Western Sahara territory to vacate within three days.

Rabat's order comes as a response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's remarks that Morocco's claim to the Western Sahara was an "occupation."

Earlier this month, Ban visited the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, saying he wanted to restart negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

When Spanish colonial forces withdrew from the contested territory in 1975, Rabat deployed armed forces to lay claim to the phosphate-rich territory, prompting an insurgency by Sahrawi rebels known as the Polisario Front.

The rebel group says the Western Sahara belongs to ethnic Sahrawis, although Rabat says the former Spanish territory is an integral part of the Kingdom of Morocco.

"All of these measures would serious impede the function of the mission," Dujarric said. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was formed in 1991.

An elusive referendum on the territory's sovereignty was part of a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991

An elusive referendum on the territory's sovereignty was part of a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991

War on the horizon

Meanwhile, the Polisario Front's UN representative Ahmed Boukhari said that the frozen conflict would likely be reignited if the MINURSO is closed.

"What Morocco is proposing is to put an end to the mission," Boukhari said. "That would mean the shortest way to the resumption of war."

Boukhari's comments come after Morocco retracted its statement that it would pull its UN peacekeepers from all UN missions across the globe.

ls/bw (AFP, Reuters, AP)